Under Obama, the buck stops with the military

Former Attorney General Michael Mukasey has been an outspoken critic of President Obama and the politicization of Osama bin Laden’s death. This criticism continued Friday evening when Mukasey sat down with Fox News’ Sean Hannity. According to Mukasey, the Obama administration drafted a memo to protect the president from blame if the mission to kill or capture the al-Qaeda leader failed. The botched mission would’ve been the fault of commanding military officials, not the White House.

Mukasey recently detailed this in the Wall Street Journal:

A recently disclosed memorandum from then-CIA Director Leon Panetta shows that the president’s celebrated derring-do in authorizing the operation included a responsibility-escape clause: “The timing, operational decision making and control are in Admiral McRaven’s hands. The approval is provided on the risk profile presented to the President. Any additional risks are to be brought back to the President for his consideration. The direction is to go in and get bin Laden and if he is not there, to get out.”

Which is to say, if the mission went wrong, the fault would be Adm. McRaven’s, not the president’s. Moreover, the president does not seem to have addressed at all the possibility of seizing material with intelligence value—which may explain his disclosure immediately following the event not only that bin Laden was killed, but also that a valuable trove of intelligence had been seized, including even the location of al Qaeda safe-houses. That disclosure infuriated the intelligence community because it squandered the opportunity to exploit the intelligence that was the subject of the boast.

Also notable from Mukasey’s column is his historical juxtaposition of Obama’s handling of bin Laden with presidents who came before him:

[Abraham] Lincoln took responsibility in August 1862 for failures that had been attributed to General George McClellan—eventually sacked for incompetence—and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton. Lincoln told a crowd that McClellan was not at fault for seeking more than Stanton could give, and “I stand here, as justice requires me to do, to take upon myself what has been charged upon the Secretary of War.”

Dwight Eisenhower is famous for having penned a statement to be issued in anticipation of the failure of the Normandy invasion that reads in relevant part: “My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”

A week later, when the success of the invasion was apparent, Eisenhower saluted the Allied Expeditionary Forces: “One week ago this morning there was established through your coordinated efforts our first foothold in northwestern Europe. High as was my preinvasion confidence in your courage, skill and effectiveness . . . your accomplishments . . . have exceeded my brightest hopes.

Eisenhower did mention himself at the end: “I truly congratulate you upon a brilliantly successful beginning. . . . Liberty loving people everywhere would today like to join me in saying to you, ‘I am proud of you.'”

Such examples are worth remembering every time President Obama claims bin Laden bragging rights.